Friday, November 30- Let the Countdown Begin!

     Have you ever seen the cooking show called Iron Chef? It pits two chefs against each other, mano a mano as it were, in what is aptly and QUITE dramatically named Kitchen Stadium. The host, played by martial artist Mark Dacascos, is even more dramatic than the name of the set on which the battle happens. He comes out to tense, terse music, with smoke machines working overtime to make sure the whole thing looks terribly surreal. He then reveals “the secret ingredient”, which is built up to be the greatest thing ever seen in the history of the planet. It is dramatically revealed to be something goofy like jelly beans or Kool-Aid powder! And then, as if we haven’t had our intelligence insulted quite enough, the camera zooms in as he screams, “Let the BATTLE BEGIN!” Oh, the drama!
     That opening sequence has been running through my head recently. Why? Because tomorrow is…DECEMBER! 25 days until Christmas! In other words- let the BATTLE BEGIN! Just think- we have officially begun the “runaway train tour”. Think not? guess again! The train has pulled out of the station…JUST pulled out…and right now it is simply trying to build up a head of steam. It is barely chugging, poking along. And you are thinking to yourself, “Oh! This isn’t bad at all! At this pace, I can keep up just fine and Christmas will simply NOT sneak up on me this year!” Yeah, sure! And I have a HUGE croquet wicket on the St. Louis riverfront to sell you!!
     The truth is that, no matter how slow the Christmas train is running now…it IS gaining speed. And it is gaining speed rapidly. And all of a sudden, before you even see it coming, it will be going SO fast that you can’t keep off but are too afraid to jump off. And then…SLAM…Christmas is here and gone! That is…if you let it.
     You see, you have a choice. You don’t HAVE to let this scenario play out THIS year like it has ever OTHER year. You can choose to say, “I refuse to get SO caught up in the ‘busyness’ that I miss the whole point. I WILL, with GREAT intention, focus on Jesus Christ and why we celebrate Christmas. I will vow to not overspend just to but lots of ‘stuff’ but instead focus on relationships. I will NOT let Madison Avenue dictate how I celebrate such a glorious event!” 
     What do you think- can you do it? Can you do things differently this year? Can you make the change? If you CAN…it will be a Christmas season like no other you have ever experienced. If you CAN’T…hang on tight and keep your arms and legs inside the car- the ride is just starting!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Sinatra Embarrassed Me in the Grocery Store!

Thursday, November 29- “They Came From a Fire!”

     A man drove into a small Southern town , where hr noticed a Nativity Scene that showed great skill and talent had gone into creating it. One small feature was bothersome. The three wise men were wearing firemen’s helmets. Totally unable to come up with a reason or explanation, the man drove on. At a “Quik Stop” on the edge of town, he stopped and asked the lady behind the counter about the helmets. She exploded into a rage, yelling at him, “You Yankees never do read the Bible!” He assured her that he did in fact read the Bible, but simply couldn’t recall anything about firemen in the Bible. She jerked her Bible from behind the counter and ruffled through some pages, and finally jabbed her finger at a passage. Sticking it in his face she said in her strong southern drawl, “See, it says right here, ‘The three wise man came from afar.'”
     Nativity scenes are a fascinating thing. They are interesting, unique, colorful, simple, complex and about 4,000 other words I could think of. At our recent Christmas Bazaar, my church displayed something over 100 Nativities- it was amazing and nearly overwhelming. They were all so unique and beautiful. And now, I have a rather large Nativity scene – the one in the picture, to be exact – in the front yard. (It’s so big, it sits on a trailer!) 
     If you look at a Nativity, you will notice some things:
1. They are usually very pastoral. They are clean, tidy, almost sanitized.
2. The people in the Nativity are usually well-dressed, with bright, colorful clothes that look like they just came off the rack at the local mall.
3. The animals are clean, healthy, and seemingly very well behaved.
4. They are in a nice, sometimes VERY nice, wooden structure.
5. The wise men are there when Jesus was a baby. 
     But the reality is that probably NONE of those things are accurate. It is very doubtful that the setting was clean, tidy, almost sanitized. The folks were probably in dirty, faded, worn clothing. The animals were probably dirty and somewhat malnourished. The whole event quite possibly took place NOT in a wooden structure but a cave. Wood was scarce. And the Bible says that the wise men showed up at Jesus’ house when He was about 2 years old.
     So our quaint Nativities are probably NOT historically accurate. And to that I say, “So what?” Really- does it matter one little whit whether our marvelously presentational versions of the birth of Jesus are correct or not? NO! Why? Because we can speculate all we want but unless someone hops in the DeLorean, gets it up to 88 MPH and sets the flux capacitor for 12/25/00…we will never know for sure anyway! And the details to the story don’t have any real impact on the greater story, which is that God CHOSE to come down and walk among us. And He CHOSE to show up in the most helpless, vulnerable form possible…a baby. And He grew up, taught, preached, healed…and died…for US! But the grave could not keep Him and on the 3rd day He rose again. THAT’S what the Nativity is all about…ultimately. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stand out in my front yard and look at the cool Nativity!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Let the Countdown Begin!

Wednesday, November 28- Christmas Expose: The Numbers

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we begin a new study, Christmas Expose’, in which we dig into the meaning BEHIND the traditions of Christmas.)

1. Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25?
• Jesus was almost certainly not born in the winter (scholars argue over whether it was actually in Autumn or Spring)
• Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth. They were too busy preparing for His imminent return.
• The first recorded recognition of Jesus’ birthday was in 354 A.D.
• The word Christmas comes from Middle English “Christemasse” and the Old English “Cristes mæsse”, literally meaning “Christ’s Mass”.
• The winter solstice was on December 25 in the Julian calendar
• The winter solstice was the time when the sun was “reborn”
• Persia and India celebrated the birth of sun god Mithras on December 25
• Saturnus, the god of seed/sowing, was honored with a festival- the Saturnalia
• It was later celebrated as Brumalia (“winter solstice”)
• Hoping to convert pagans, early Christians chose December 25 as their date
• By mid-4th century, pagan celebrations absorbed into Christian Christmas
• The Julian calendar lost 1 day every 128 years
• In 325 A.D., Christmas was on December 22nd
• By 1582 it was on December 12th
• That year, Pope Gregory XIII (he of the Gregorian calendar) restored December 25
• Christmas was slow to catch on in America
• Early colonists considered it a pagan ritual
• Christmas was banned by law in colonial Massachusetts

2. What’s the story behind “The 12 Days Of Christmas”?
     There are varying reports as to the meaning of this song. Here are 3 of the more common.
Legend #1- during the middle ages, it was a crime punishable by death to be a Catholic. A “coded” song was written as a mnemonic device to teach the Catholic catechism to children; each of the gifts are a clue:
• “my true love” is God
• “me” is baptized believers
• “a partridge in the pear tree” is Jesus
• “2 Turtle Doves” are the Old and New Testaments
• “3 French Hens” are Faith, Hope, Love, the Theological Virtues found in in 1Corinthians 13
• “4 Calling Birds” are the Four Gospel writers
• “5 Golden Rings” are the 1st 5 Books of the Old Testament- the “Pentateuch”
• “6 Geese A-laying” are the 6 days of creation
• “7 Swans A-swimming” are either the 7 Catholic sacraments (Baptism, confirmation, Communion, penance, anointing the sick/dying, holy orders, marriage) or the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (prophecy, ministry, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, compassion)
• “8 Maids A-milking” are the 8 beatitudes (Blessed are: the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, they who hunger and thirst for holiness, they who show mercy, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake)
• “9 Ladies Dancing” are the 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)
• “10 Lords A-leaping” are the 10 commandments (no other gods, no idols, don’t take God’s name in vain, remember the Sabbath, honor your father and mother, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet)
• “11 Pipers Piping” are the 11 faithful apostles (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the Lesser, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot)
• “12 Drummers Drumming” are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed. I believe: 1) in God, 2) in Jesus Christ, 3) He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, buried, and descended into hell, 5) on the 3rd day he rose again, ascended into heaven, and is seated at God’s right hand, 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead, 7) in the Holy Spirit, 8) in the holy catholic Church, 9) in the communion of saints, 10) in the forgiveness of sins, 11) in the resurrection of the body, 12) in life everlasting)

A Scottish Variation on Legend #1:
• Twelve for the twelve Apostles
• Eleven for eleven who went to Heaven
• Ten for the Ten Commandments
• Nine for the nine bright shiners- astronomical reference, maybe sun, moon, known planets
• Eight for the April rainers- the Hyades star cluster,  thought to bring in the April rains
• Seven for the seven stars in the sky- 7 Sisters, the Pleiades star cluster
• Six for the six proud walkers- perhaps a Biblical reference to Ezekiel 9:2 – six men with swords come in a vision to slaughter the people, whose leaders have committed sins
• Five for the symbols at your door- putting a pentagram at the door to ward off witches and evil spirits
• Four for the Gospel makers
• Three, three, the rivals- could refer to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, or the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, or Peter, James and John- “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24).
• Two, two, the lily-white boys, dresséd all in green, oh- Could be Jesus and John the Baptist or the Old and New Testaments
• One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so- Probably God, although in the Middle Ages, God was more commonly thought of as the Trinity
(The lyrics of this version are, in many places, extremely obscure, and seem to be an odd mixture of Catholic catechism, astronomical mnemonics, and pagan cosmology.)

Legend #2- it’s simply a delightful nonsense rhyme, set to music and used as a “memory game”!

• January 6 is Epiphany, also known as the 12th Day of Christmas or 12th Night (Jan. 5th)

3. Were there REALLY 3 Wise Men?
• History depicts 3 Wise Men coming to the stable to worship the baby Jesus.
• In the Bible, there is absolutely no mention of how many Wise Men came. The number 3 was chosen simply because that’s how many gifts were brought.

• In “The Travels of Marco Polo”, the adventurer tells of visiting a Persian city called Saveh. He says this is the city from where “the three Magi set out when they came to worship Jesus Christ”. He goes on to say that he saw three tombs “of great size and beauty”. In them were three “bodies…still whole, and they have hair and beards.”
• Historically, they are given names: Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names come from an early 6th Century Greek manuscript.
• The Wise Men didn’t get to Jesus until he was about 2 years old. Our Nativity scenes have it incorrect!

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- “They Came From a Fire!”